There are standout moments for every title winning side and should Chelsea go on to lift the Barclays Premier League trophy, this will perhaps go down as a defining, if not memorable night. It may have taken until the final minute of regular time for Chelsea to make the breakthrough, but crucially they managed to take all three points against a resilient Everton side.
With Manchester City comfortably seeing off Stoke, Chelsea needed to dig deep to ensure they maintained their seven point lead at the top and it was Willian – scoring his second of the league campaign, who proved the difference. With just 13 games remaining, the final whistle brought a mixture of ecstasy and relief to Stamford Bridge as everyone from Jose Mourinho right down to the ball boys recognised the magnitude of result.
The home side were always a step ahead of Everton throughout, but the Toffees very nearly took the lead after eight minutes from a defensive mix up between César Azpilicueta and John Terry. The loose ball fell to loan signing Aaron Lennon who crossed for Romelu Lukaku but the former Chelsea man could not find the net, as questions continue to grow concerning his price tag.
Azpilicueta was shortly involved at the other end, as smart build up play between himself and Willian provided Loic Remy with an opportunity from the edge of the area but a returning Tim Howard was his equal.
With an Everton defence reinforce by Howard the first half saw Chelsea, without the suspended Diego Costa, often reduced to long range efforts from Eden Hazard, Remy and impressive new boy Juan Cuadrado signed from Fiorentina for £27m.
Chelsea forged out lion’s share of opportunities but continued to go frustrated. On a night when both goalkeepers shone Peter Cech pulled off an amazing reaction save to again deny Lukaku with 20 minutes remaining. It speaks volumes of Thibaut Courtois’ form that this was just the fifth game of the season for Cech, who is now guaranteed a league medal should the Premier League trophy be hoisted at the Bridge.
In the closing stages Nemanja Matic’s effort was ruled offside for a deflection from Branislav Ivanovic. However, this was but the beginning of a dramatic few moments as Gareth Barry’s trip on Willian earned him a second booking and the resulting melee saw Ivanovic square off with James McCarthy, seemingly pushing his teeth into the midfielder’s neck. Ironically, it was Luis Suarez who was found guilty of biting Ivanovic two years ago.
Mourinho remained adamant of his player’s innocence stating: “Did Branislav Ivanovic go in with his head? Don’t make me laugh. Don’t make me laugh”. Controversially Ivanovic would remain both on the pitch and involved in the deciding goal as it was his header that was initially cleared by Howard only for it to fall to lively Willian and his strike ricocheted off Steven Naismith.
Roberto Martinez is left wondering just how much further his side can slump in a disappointing second season in charge but stated his slighted admiration for the home side: “I think they’ll win the league but you don’t want to see teams winning games in that manner.”
Ivanovic may be facing a lengthy spell on the side lines and the battle for the title may not yet be won, but tonight belongs to Chelsea.